The Age of Data
Insurance Experts' Forum, January 20, 2012
While mobile, social and consumer-derived technologies in general seem to be garnering an inordinate amount of mind share in the technology press lately, the reality is that they are still peripheral to the business of insurance.
As much as I wish 55-inch OLED televisions, Ultrabooks or all the other cool stuff on display last week at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas was germane to insurance and our editorial mission, it just isn't. (If, by some odd chance it is, please, please drop my editors a note. January is a freezing mess here in Chicago). However, if there is one technology germane to insurance that has the “wow factor,” it is predictive analytics.
While not necessarily a new technology, broader use of predictive analytics throughout the insurance enterprise paired with incredible advances in the hardware and software that enables it, points to something of great import not just for insurers, but other industries as well. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “So, What's Your Algorithm?” traces the newfound cachet of analytics from Wall Street to Moneyball. "Call it Big Data, analytics, or decision science," the article states. "Over time, this will change your world more than the iPad 3."
One way to quantify the analytics explosion may be to take a peak at the bottom line of a company synonymous with the technology, SAS Institute. This week the company reported 12-percent annual top-line growth, achieving record global revenue of US$2.725 billion in 2011. This number is all the more impressive when one considers revenues were in the $1 billion range a decade ago.
Jim Davis, SVP and chief marketing officer for SAS, credits a variety of factors for the technology's growth. While the company has seen a boom in demand in sectors such as government, utilities and manufacturing, financial services firms still account for 40 percent of revenue for SAS.
"More people at the executive level understand what PA can do for their organizations," Davis tells me. "Hence the growth in areas such as fraud detection and risk."
Davis also credits increasing utilization of ever-improving hardware for improving the visibility and viability of analytics. Inexpensive server blades containing powerful multi-core processors have greatly reduced the cost and time of running even the most complex of analytic calculations. Thus, insurers are now able to analyze all data in a given database rather than a subset of it. "We are using high-performance computing to reduce the latency in decision-making," he says. "We are taking industry standard servers and seeing incredible results."
Another technology trend catalyzing broader use of analytics is cloud computing. SAS built a dedicated cloud facility on its Cary, N.C., campus that went online in mid-2010. "Our hosted revenue is up 48 percent," Davis says. "It's becoming a big business for us. What started off as a pet project a few years ago has grown in leaps and bounds."
One insurance-specific driver of demand for predictive tools is telematics, which marries analytics to mobility and has the potential to revolutionize insurance processes from underwriting to claims. "I wonder if people realize how much data is going to be derived from telematics and what the potential is for predictive analytics," he concludes. "If telematics takes off, it's really going to be Big Data. You are going to have to have the technology platforms to make sense of it.”
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